Trust your instincts. That might be good advice in love and lotteries. However, it’s lousy advice when it comes from your ad agency, PR advisors or marketing team. In fact, those folks usually “trust our instincts.”

Trying to figure out what other people are thinking or going to do is a mug’s game. Instincts will tell you one thing. How people like you think and behave. But guess what? There are not nearly as many of them as you believe.

Many of us make the mistake of thinking others, even those who have shared similar experiences, think and act as we do. Big mistake. There has always been at least one surprise that has emerged out of the public opinion work that I’ve commissioned over the course of my career.

For instance, when I served as VP, Marketing and Communications for Dalhousie, I contracted a top PR/ad agency to help the university attract a broader mix of undergraduate prospects. At the time, Dal was the first choice for many top performing high school students in the Maritimes, but not drawing enough from the larger pool of slightly above average students heading to university. Research told us Dal had a perception problem with the latter group. Among those students Dal was known as ‘no-fun U,’ because everyone knew that the smartest kids were going there. To alter that perception, our creative partners designed the “Discover the Unexpected” campaign. As is often the case, they were confident that they had nailed it on the first try, but we insisted on testing it, before proceeding to full launch. Good thing we did, because the research showed that they had missed the creative mark by a decade. “It’s so 90’s,” is a phrase that still lives in my memory. It came from an 18-year old in 2005! Hearing that line convinced everyone that a creative update was necessary.

Long story short, the “Discover the Unexpected” campaign was tweaked; and it went on to become the most successful recruitment platform in the region, as well as in Ontario. Dal’s undergraduate cohort soared over the next few years, as more of the big market – the slightly above average students – found reasons to pick the Halifax school.

Instincts? Well, the instinct that worked that case was insisting upon quality research. I think it’s fair to say that research saved the “Discover the Unexpected” campaign.

Known for his quick wit, and no-nonsense advice, Jim Vibert is a leading Communication Strategist, with more than 30 years experience to his name. He currently serves as Lead Counsel for Alidade Marketing.

16 May 2013